Friday, May 27, 2011

Confederates in Harvard's Memorial Hall


With the advent of the sesquicentennial, there has been a surge of interest in all things related to the Civil War. At Harvard, this has taken the form of intensified debates over the inclusion of Harvard's Confederate dead in Memorial Hall.

Memorial Hall via Wikipedia

Harvard's Memorial Hall was built in the 1870s as a monument to Harvard's Union war dead. It is a huge, gothic building that houses Annenberg Dining Hall, Sanders Theatre, and a memorial corridor lined with marble plaques that bear the names of 136 Harvard graduates who died while serving with the Union army. The plaque in the center of the transept declares,
This hall commemorates the patriotism of the graduates and student of this university who served in the Army and Navy of the United States during the war for the preservation of the Union and upon these tablets are inscribed the names of those among them who died in that service.

The controversy arises from the fact that the 71 Harvard graduates who died in the Confederate armed forces are not included in this memorial. When the cornerstone for the building was laid (1870), the prevailing sentiment was toward honoring only those soldiers who had fought against treason. During the reconstruction era, Cambridge was still proud to characterize the war as a sacred struggle over both union and slavery, as demonstrated in the sphinx monument at Mount Auburn Cemetery (1872), which bears the text,

Yet, the reconciliationist narrative came to Cambridge as surely as it swept over the rest of the nation. By the time the 50-year celebrations rolled around, there were active efforts to include the names of Harvard's Confederate dead at Memorial Hall. Monuments erected at Yale and Princeton during this era jumbled the names of Union and Confederate dead and honored all as patriots.

In the past year, the campaign to include the Confederate dead in Memorial Hall has ramped up again. Many pro-memorialization advocates have latched onto the fact that Memorial Church (a different building on campus, built in 1932 to commemorate the WWI dead) lists the names of several Harvard men who died serving in the German army in WWI and one Divinity School graduate who died in WWII. Last fall, the Harvard Crimson ran a long article about the differences between the Memorial Hall and Memorial Church commemoration philosophies, in which it quoted Prof. Alan Dershowitz as saying,
The University needs to adopt a policy one way or the other. The current inconsistent standard is unacceptable, and it’s particularly unfortunate that the exception seems to be for a member of the Nazi army, one of the darkest regimes in human history, and a regime with which Harvard had too cozy a relationship.
While I tend to think that Prof. Dershowitz would probably rather see the deletion of German soldiers from Memorial Church than the addition of Confederates to Memorial Hall, others have come to the opposite conclusion. The Harvard Confederate Memorial Initiative is a small, but vocal organization dedicated to advocating for a Confederate memorial at Harvard. You can view their intro video here. Their cause has been getting some attention, not just from the Crimson, but from conservative media outlets like World Net Daily. Last summer, a WND reporter confronted White House press secretary Robert Gibbs over the Memorial Hall issue — Gibbs had no comment. The HCMI also has a Facebook petition (currently rather pathetic at about 130 "likes"). Executive Director Roger McCredie told the Crimson that the HCMI's goal is to correct the historical narrative of "South equal bad. North equal good":
If you want to talk slavery, we can talk slavery all day long and about how no one’s hands are clean from it—including the Fanueil family and the Brown family, both of whom made fortunes on the slave trade. This extremely skewed view of history and of historical perspective has become pandemic—it does not infect merely Harvard; it infects the entire educated and cultural edifice of the United States these days.
Now, I know Mr. McCredie has a particular political agenda to advance, but this sort of thing is rage-inducing. He seems to be confusing Harvard with a mediocre elementary school circa 1990. The Harvard curriculum is hardly trying to cover up Northern complicity in American slavery with courses like Sven Beckert's "Harvard and Slavery" or faculty research like Jill Lepore's New York Burning or events like last month's joint conference with Brown, which was called "Slavery's Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development" and focused on slavery's role in national economic development after the Revolution. When someone claims that academic historians are ignoring or trying to cover up Northern slavery, I know that I can safely disregard everything else in his/her manifesto because he/she clearly has no grasp of what academic historians do. Northern slavery is one of the hottest things going in Early American history at the moment. People who pretend otherwise are willfully ignorant in service of their neo-Confederate politics.

Yet, admittedly, academic historians are notoriously awful about getting the word out about our work. Part of that is our fault (we generally for one another rather than for a wide audience and punish colleagues who try to engage with the public), part is the fault of the structure of history education at the k-12 level (holiday history controlled by politicized state committees and useless AP-driven fact cram later on), part is the fault of public figures who appeal to history as a cover for their own biases (see the entire Scalia oeuvre), and part is the fault of an incurious general public that can't be bothered to read anything more challenging than a David McCullough biography. As an historian with a commitment to public history, I think it would be a great idea to do some public outreach regarding Harvard's role in American slavery and its considerable ties to the Confederacy.

Therefore, I propose the following exhibit:


In the transept of Memorial Hall, two rows of rectangular display pedestals will stand along the East and West walls, each directly under a memorial panel and mirroring the panel in shape and size, though tipped at a slight angle so that visitors can view the contents easily. Each pedestal will display an object or text relating to Harvard's multifaceted role in creating, sustaining, and challenging American slavery and the war that ended it. A final pedestal will stand at the North end of the transept, under the stained glass window, bearing the names of the 71 Harvard students and alumni who gave their lives in support of the Confederacy and its cause — not in violation of their position as Harvard men, but in fulfillment of it.

Examples of objects that would go into these cases:
  • J.T. Zealy / Louis Agassiz Daguerreotypes:
    • In 1850, Harvard's most celebrated naturalist, Louis Agassiz, traveled to South Carolina, where he commissioned a series of photographs of African-born slaves and first-generation African-Americans in an attempt to gather evidence about racial types. Agassiz believed that various races were created separately, and his use of scientific methods, including these photographs, lent his ideas intellectual weight in antebellum America. The daguerreotypes — many of them depicting their subjects nude, in the poses now familiar to us from mug shots — are held by Harvard's Peabody Museum. They are not on display, partly because they are fragile and partly because they are ghastly. For more information, see Molly Rogers' Delia's Tears: Race, Science and Photography in 19th-Century America. This book reprints all of the images in full, something I would not do here, even if I had permission.
  • Portrait of Thomas Wentworth Higginson by Frank Weston Benton (1893)
    • Higginson, a fiery abolitionist who contributed openly to John Brown's cause, was a member of the class of 1841. He was a true radical and found that the reforms brought about by the Civil War fell far short of his hopes for racial justice. In 1904, he gave a Decoration Day speech in Sanders Theatre in which he suggested that Confederates might be included in the tablets in the transept. While some historians (David Blight) have argued that Higginson represents the erasure of abolitionism from Civil War memory, others (W. Scott Poole) argue that Higginson's remarks in 1904 "speak to his own disillusion about the possibilities of nationalism and his doubts about whether or not it could serve as a force for racial justice." Higginson's portrait (along with various quotations) would provide an unparalleled example of the complexity of Harvard's relationships with abolitionism and Civil War memory.
  • Samples of "Negro Cloth" from Rhode Island 1839-1850 from Baker Library (Harvard Business School)
    •  Many Harvard alumni and donors (ex: Francis Cabot Lowell, class of 1793) were industrialists who turned slave-grown Southern cotton into cheap cloth. Some of this material, like the samples above, were manufactured in order to be sent back to Southern plantations to clothe those same slaves. Several cases in this exhibit would be devoted to the Harvard/factory/plantation nexus.
Other cases would showcase other items related to Harvard's historical support of and entanglement with slavery — receipts for gifts from slaveowning or slave-industry alumni, a replica of the gravestone dedicated to Cecily (d. 1713, 13-year-old slave to William Brattle, class of 1680), a fragment of brick from an 18th-century college building built using slave labor, etc. An exhibit like this would probably be the fruit of research conducted in undergraduate seminars (like Prof. Beckert's) and by professors and community members as part of a commission similar to Brown's Committee on Slavery and Justice. Its catalog would probably go on to form part of a larger report by the commission laying bare Harvard's complicity. I know that a report from a steering committee doesn't sound like a very friendly way to get the word out, but there was plenty of interest in Brown's report, and Harvard's would make a bigger splash. People might not read the report, but they would read the NYT article about the report.

In this way, Harvard could engage in meaningful reflection on its institutional history. I think that a public exhibit in Memorial Hall would be a powerful way to write Harvard's Confederate dead back into its story, not with celebration, but with conscience. The point would be to bring context to the names already on the walls in the transept. They were the memorial that Harvard needed in 1870, but we need something more in 2011.

Roger McCredie and others who call for the names of Harvard's Confederate dead to be added to the rolls of honor in Memorial Hall argue that Harvard should acknowledge its role in the development and maintenance of American slavery. I agree. But simply adding the names of Harvard's Confederates would not just acknowledge that role — it would perpetuate it. If Harvard were to take such a bold and public step in favor of a reconciliationist narrative that argues that the Civil War was about personal valor and sacrifice, rather than a struggle over treason in defense of slavery, the institution will have lent its considerable cultural capital to the mythology of the Lost Cause. It will have arrayed what arms it has on the side of a white supremacist, anti-intellectual movement that is stuck in the mindset of the 50th anniversary while the rest of the nation observes the 150th. Luckily, I think there is very little chance that this will happen, particularly under the administration of President Faust, who is, after all, a scholar of the Civil War with a particular interest in memorialization. If the names of Harvard's Confederate dead are added to Memorial Hall — and I hope they are — they must be part of an effort to confront Harvard's institutional complicity, not an attempt to prolong it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

An Obituary for Mr. Cheever

On the death of Ezekiel Cheever, noted schoolmaster, Samuel Sewall composed this obituary:
He was born January, 25. 1614. Came over to N-E. 1637. to Boston: To New-Haven 1638. Married in the Fall and began to teach School; which Work he was constant in till now. First, at New-Haven, then at Ipswich; then at Charlestown; then at Boston, whether he came 1670. So that he has Labour'd in that Calling Skillfully, diligently, constantly, Religiously, Seventy years. A rare Instance of Piety, Health, Strength, Serviceableness. The Welfare of the Province was much upon his Spirit. He abominated Perriwigs.
No higher praise.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Samuel Sewall on Mourning Executed Criminals

On Thursday, we saw the family of convicted pirate John Lambert successfully lobby Judge Sewall for permission to bury Lambert in King's Chapel burying ground. Today, I would like to highlight another example of a Boston family going into public mourning after an execution.

On November 13, word reached Boston that Lady Alice Beckenshaw Lisle had been beheaded in Winchester, England. Lady Alice (age 68) had given shelter to fugitives from the Battle of Sedgemoor, the last battle in the Protestant Duke of Monmouth's campaign to depose his Catholic uncle, James II. Lady Alice claimed that she did not know that the fugitives had been involved in the Monmouth Rebellion. Nevertheless, she was tried and convicted at the Bloody Assizes on August 25, 1685 and sentenced to be burned to death. King James II commuted her sentence to death by beheading, an order that was carried out on September 2.

Most Puritan Bostonians had been horrified by the ascension of a Catholic king and were in sympathy with Monmouth's Rebellion. The same ship that brought news of Lady Alice's execution also brought "a Rumor that the Government [of New England] will be Changed, this Fall or Winter, by some Person sent over, or a Commission to some here." This rumor proved true with the establishment of the Dominion of New England a few months later.

None in Boston mourned Lady Alice's death more deeply than did her daughter, Bridget Lisle Usher, widow of late Harvard president Leonard Hoar and wife of Boston merchant Hezekiah Usher. The week after the news arrived, Sewall noticed that "Madam Usher, her Daughter and Husband" attended Rev. Cotton Mather's Thursday lecture "in Mourning." I don't know whether their presence in the audience influenced Mather's choice of material at all, but Sewall's notes indicate that the content of the lecture would have called attention to Lady Alice's case and the plight of Protestant New England more broadly:
Mr. Mather Preaches from Numb. 25. 11. Shewed that Love was an ingredient to make one zealous; those that received good People received Christ, Mat. 25. Said that if the Government of N.E. were zealous might yet save this People. 2d Part of 79th Ps. sung. Madam Usher, her Daughter and Husband in Mourning.
Imagine Bridget Usher and her family dressed in mourning as the congregation around them sang the 79th Psalm, which begins with,
O god, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled; they have laid Jerusalem on heaps.
If they sang the second half, they sang,
 Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee; according to the greatness of thy power preserve thou those that are appointed to die;
Mather's other texts were similarly on-point. Numbers 25:11 concerns the actions of Phineas, a grandson of Moses' brother Aaron, who saved the Israelites from God's wrath by proving his zealousness. Matthew 25 is the famous parable of the wise virgins and the foolish virgins, which contains well-known passages on preparedness and hospitality:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
I am not a scholar of Puritan worship practices, so I don't want to jump to the easy conclusion that Mather chose this passage to comment on Lady Alice's righteousness. Yet, it seems to me that all this talk of extending hospitality to those in need had to have focused the congregation's attention on her case, especially with her family sitting there in mourning.

In any case, this is an instance where Boston's religious and political loyalties allowed the family of someone executed for treason to mourn that death brazenly in public.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Samuel Sewall on Burying Executed Criminals

We have already seen what Samuel Sewall thought about commemorating executed criminals. In the case of the executed Quakers, he argued that people who died on the gallows should have no monuments erected to their memory. This is of interest to me because you would think that you would want to drag out the example as long as possible, so Sewall's opposition to any marker shows that marking a grave was considered a sign of respect.

The executed Quakers were not buried in a graveyard — they were buried near the gallows on Boston Common. Presumably, burial within the graveyard was also a sign of respect, though Puritan graveyards were not formally consecrated. This also comes up in the case of burials for people who committed suicide. In 1688, an Indian servant named Thomas hanged himself, and the Boston coroner "ordered his burial by the highway with a Stake through his Grave." Earlier the same year, the wife of Samuel Marion had hanged herself, but she was given a graveyard burial after three witnesses testified that she had been insane for some time preceding her death.

From the evidence I have gathered, it seems that executed criminals were not generally buried in graveyards, but there are some exceptions. In 1704, for example, Sewall allowed the family of John Lambert, a convicted pirate, to claim and bury his body in the Kings Chapel burying ground. 
By my Order, the diggers of Mm Paiges Tomb Dugg a Grave for Lambert, where he was laid in the Old burying place Friday night about midnight near some of his Relations: Body was given to his Widow. Son and others made suit to me.
Even if he was willing to let the family bury the body with some sort of dignity, Sewall did not want them to flaunt their actions. Most funerals took place in the late afternoon, but John Lambert was buried at midnight.

This makes me wonder: was Samuel Sewall — who is famous for repenting his involvement in the Salem witch trials — involved with the burial of Rebecca Nurse? Family legend says that the Nurse family exhumed and re-buried Rebecca's body under cover of night after she was executed for witchcraft in 1692. The circumstances seem similar. Might Sewall have given his blessing to the Nurses as well as the Lamberts? Or might the mercy he showed to the Lamberts have been inspired by his guilt over doing nothing for Rebecca Nurse?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Samuel Sewall on Hortatory Names

In 1701, Samuel Sewall was one of the judges who heard the case of Esther Rogers, accused of murdering an infant daughter born out of wedlock. Rogers was found guilty and Sewall chastised her for not living up to her name:
I told her . . . Esther was a great saviour; she, a great destroyer. Said did not do this to insult over her, but to make her sensible.
So it seems that at least some people were thinking about first names as exhortations to good behavior. It makes the Jezebels and Vajezathas all the more perplexing.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Gravestone of the Day: Othniel Tripp

Othniel Tripp, 1740, NCBG, Newport, RI

In Memory of 
Othniel Tripp, died
March ye 19Th 1740
In ye 66Th year
of his age.

Othniel is a judge in the Book of Judges.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

From CNN: Plan Would Replace Controversial Grave Markers

A Thought for Grading Day

I am incredibly discouraged by my students' final projects. Yes, I know that I am teaching for a Gen Ed class, but it is still a Harvard Gen Ed class.

One of the main themes of our course has been that Harvard's museum collections are, in many significant ways, artifacts of American imperialism. The Peabody Museum's anthropological collections are the most obvious example, but other collections have substantial imperialist implications. The Natural History Museum is full of things that Agassiz collected in South America during his quest to prove his theory of polygenesis. The Herbarium is full of the orchids that Oakes Ames loved so much, but collected in the understanding that tropical flora was a critical resource in the era of the Spanish-American War. There are a hundred examples, and we must have talked about at least a dozen in class.

Of these, we spent the most time discussing Harvard's collection of Native American artifacts. I thought that we had ground this topic into a fine powder by the sheer weight of our repetition and elaboration on the themes: the myth of the Disappearing Indian, the exhibition of human subjects at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, NAGPRA and the politics of collecting/displaying grave goods, the institutional burden we bear and possibilities for collaboration and reparation in the future, etc. etc. etc. Honestly, there were at least 8 lectures that were substantially concerned with Harvard's very complicated relationship with Native Americans from the days of the Indian College to the modern Peabody's extraordinary efforts to embrace NAGPRA.

And yet, I am still spending my weekend reading bullshit student papers about how a series of craniometric casts taken from the 73 Cheyenne and Arapaho prisoners (men, women, and children) held at Fort Marion in the 1870s presents a wonderful example of how benevolent white Americans civilized and Christianized the poor, suffering savages. After all, the army may have killed their families and forced them to live in stinking cells in the Florida heat, but, hey, they got shirts! And some of them made sketches during their indefinite incarceration! And not that many of them died! So it was a rousing success for all involved.

Honestly, I had to stop reading them. I am writing this post while half way through a paper. I got to the line, "This was their first time experiencing true human civilization," and I just had to put it down.

The thing is, it is very difficult to explain to these students why they are getting bad grades on these papers. They have a thesis: Imprisonment was good for the Cheyenne prisoners. They have evidence: Look! Harriet Beecher Stowe visited and said they were being treated really well! She was super psyched about converting them to Christianity! But they are completely uncritical of any of the primary sources. If the commander of Fort Marion says that his prisoners were living in the lap of luxury, then by golly it must be 100% true. The thought of considering that army officer's understanding of "luxury" within the savagery/civilization paradigm of the 19th century never seems to occur to them, which is super depressing because we just spent an entire effing semester talking about that very topic. But they think that writing a paper of the appropriate length and with a bunch of quotations should get a decent grade. Even if the (poorly-supported) arguments they make are directly antithetical to the course values and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they learned less than nothing all semester.

But I don't just want to rant. I have a serious question. Do we do a disservice to students by presenting them with primary sources in a Gen Ed class? Working with primary sources seems to be the holy grail of working with students — let them see the real stuff! let them decide for themselves! — but what about its potential to do more harm than good? I am really worried that these students are coming out of this course not only no better off than they were before, but actually worse because they feel that they have confirmed the validity of their prejudices. After all, the primary sources say that white, Christian Americans wanted to help the Cheyenne, so it must be true. These are Harvard undergrads in 2011 who are honest-to-goodness, unironically arguing that it's a damn good thing that white Americans put Cheyenne children in boarding schools where they could be civilized. And they think that they learned that in my course. It is a disgrace.

You can say, oh, well, you just have to teach them to be critical of the primary source, but I don't think there is much more I can do. How more explicit can we be than multiple lectures and sections dedicated to the critical examination of primary documents and objects? And, lest I let the point pass, — Harvard students. I can guarantee you that there are at least three Harvard grads going out into the world with their Harvard diplomas thinking that they learned that the systematic efforts to eradicate Native American cultures was a wonderful idea. And they think that I taught them that. At Harvard.

I saved some good papers for later, if I am still able to see straight. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

SSA Baby Names Predictions Update

The Social Security list of the top 1,000 baby names for 2010 is out! Let's see how I did predicting the top risers and fallers:

Fastest Rising Names (Girls):
  • Everly: Strike out, not in top 1,000 for 2010. Next year, for sure.
  • Tiana: Nailed it! Ranked #604 in 2009, #334 in 2010! This was the third-fastest riser (behind Maci and Giuliana).
  • Aurora: eh. This name rose an anemic 15 spots.
  • Cecilia: Wrong! down 11 spots.
  • Harlow: Yes! #904 in 2009, #778 in 2010. I said it would go up 100+ spots; it went up 126.
  • Bristol: Yes! Went from #666 to #562. Over 100 spots again.
  • Bonus prediction: Amalia: Nope, didn't happen.
Fastest Rising Names (Boys):
  • Archer: #681* in 2009, #550 in 2010. The SSA does a list of "Change in Popularity," but it only accounts for names that were in the top 500. If Archer were included on that list, +131 would make it the #5 fastest riser of 2010.
  • Bentley: Called it! Top riser for boys in 2010. Up 414 spots over 2009.
  • Jaxton: Modest success. Rose from #853 to #798.
Fastest Falling Names (Girls):
  • Analia: Called it! This was absolute rock bottom for falling names. Went from #330 to #802. I am so relieved.
  • Miley: Modest success. Dropped 28 spots.
  • Yaretzi: Completely and utterly wrong — it rose 125 spots! There must be some celebrity in Spanish-language media that I am unaware of.
 Fastest Falling Names (Boys):
  • Aaden: Called it! This terrible spelling was the fastest falling name for boys.
  • Peyton: Wrong-o. Only lost one spot, which is basically the same as holding steady.
  • Jacoby: Modest success — it lost 29 spots.
I think I did pretty well! I correctly predicted the fastest fallers for both boys and girls, and I picked a couple of good risers (Bentley and Tiana). I'm kicking myself for not choosing Maci as well — I picked Bentley and didn't even consider Maci. I didn't have enough faith in the power of Teen Mom.

My worst miss was Yaretzi. Not only did it not fall, it rose substantially! I must just not be plugged in to the pop culture reference fueling its rise.

*In addition to releasing the 2010 list, the SSA has slightly revised the 2009 list — Archer used to be #679 in 2009, now it is #681.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Beer Summit, 1689-Style

I've been enjoying Samuel Sewall's accounts of sightseeing in England during his trip in 1689 (he was part of the delegation attempting to renegotiate Massachusetts' charter). Along with the great buildings and libraries, Sewall visited plenty of graveyards and churches. One of these was the Jewish cemetery in London:
Went and saw the Jews burying Place at Mile-End: Some Bodies were laid East and West; but now all are ordered to be laid North and South. Many Tombs. Engravings are Hebrew, Latin, Spanish, English, sometimes on the same stone. Part of the Ground is improv’d as a Garden, the dead are carried through the keepers house. First Tomb is abt the year 1659. Brick wall built abt part. Ont’s two sides 5444, Christi 1684, Tamuz 21, June 23, as I remember. — I told the keeper afterwards wisht might meet in Heaven: He answered, and drink a Glass of beer together, which we were then doing.
Sewall still wanted to convert the Jews — his famous hymn, "Once More Our God Vouchsafe to Shine," contains a verse praying that the "harde'ned Jews" will learn to worship " their Rightful Lord" — but, apparently, beer has some sort of mystical power to unite people (briefly).

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Illegal Quaker Burying Ground, 1685

Samuel Sewall did not like Quakers. This was hardly an extraordinary position among Massachusetts Puritans, but Sewall was particularly strong in his disapproval, going out of his way to oppose Quakers even when his fellow Puritans were willing to give them a chance. In 1708, when a group of Quakers petitioned the Governor and Council for permission to build a meeting house in Boston, Sewall opposed the measure, saying that he, "would not have a hand in setting up their Devil Worship" (Sewall Diary 23 Aug. 1708).

Sewall's diary is full of references to Quakers — he clearly kept a keen eye out for them. Of particular interest to me are his references to Quaker burials.

In June of 1685, a small group of Quakers asked Governor Simon Bradstreet for permission to build a fence around the graves of the "Boston Martyrs" — Marmaduke Stephenson, William Robinson, Mary Dyer, and William Leddra — on Boston Common. These four Quakers had been executed in 1659 (Stephenson and Robinson), 1660 (Dyer), and 1661 (Leddra), for the crime of returning to Massachusetts to proselytize after being banished on a previous occasion. Their fellow Quakers wished to honor them and, no doubt, draw attention to their own continued presence in the colony. This was a particularly sore subject in 1685, as the colony's charter had been revoked the previous year, partially due to concerns about the lack of religious toleration in Massachusetts. When Governor Bradstreet brought this request before the Council, it was unanimously denied. Sewall, writing in his diary, noted that, "it is very inconvenient for persons so dead and buried in the place to have any Monument" (Sewall Diary 17 June 1685).

The Quakers were not big on obeying earthly authorities, so they went ahead and built the fence anyway.

In August, Sewall passed by the gravesite on his way to Dorchester and saw
a few Feet of Ground enclosed with Boards, which is done by the Quakers out of respect to som one or more hanged and buried by the Gallows: though the Governor forbad them, when they asked Leave.
Of course, today, there is a big statue of Mary Dyer next to the State House, but this commemoration was a dramatic gesture of defiance in 1685.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama bin Laden Buried at Sea

As a student of colonial American mortuary culture, I generally have very little to say about modern foreign policy, but my ears perked up when I heard that Osama bin Laden was buried at sea. This seems to have been done so that his gravesite would not become a shrine for his followers. Burials continue to be important public, political statements.